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Prenatal Face Preference

June 13, 2017

New research suggests that not just newborns, but fetuses, too, preferentially favor the human face.

Transcript

A 4-D ultrasound of a fetus tracking a stimulus. Kirsty Dunn & Vincent Reid

A 4-D ultrasound shows a fetus turning its head to track a face-like stimulus in the womb. (Kirsty Dunn & Vincent Reid)

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Seeing in the womb. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Newborn babies have a strong preference for looking at human faces over anything else. After all, their survival could depend on it. Now, a study in the journal Current Biology suggests that no experience outside the womb may be necessary to develop this preference – developing fetuses do it, too. Lancaster University neuroscientist Vincent Reid and his team projected safe, low-intensity patterns of light through the uterine wall during the the 34th week of pregnancy.

VINCENT REID (Lancaster University):

And we presented the face-like pattern in an upright orientation that is similar to a face or upside-down where it doesn’t look like a face. 

HIRSHON:

The researchers found that the fetuses turned only toward the upright face-like patterns, suggesting that they favor faces before birth. Reid says the study paves the way for future research into prenatal visual perception. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Story by Susanne Bard

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